Arts & Entertainment

Shooting Low-Budget Films

Martin Scorsese

Lesson time 11:42 min

Discover Martin's experience with low-budget filmmaking collaborating with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus. Learn how to creatively get the shots you need, even under tight budget and schedule constraints.

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Topics include: Low-Budget Filmmaking Can Re-Energize Your Creative Process • Getting the Shots on a Tight Schedule in The Last Temptation of Christ


I felt that I had to learn how to make a picture faster, cheaper, and still have, still have the energy in the film. In fact, go further with a certain kind of camera move and cutting and this sort of thing. And when I first met Michael Ballhaus in-- Having had gone through a series of films up to about 1981, up to King of Comedy, and sort of the bottom fell out of everything after that. But I did meet Michael when we were preparing The Last Temptation of Christ in 1983 and I'd seen his Fassbender films that he had shot. And I wanted a sense of freedom with the camera again and freedom with light. In a sense, I felt that with the bigger productions from-- as this is not the director's of photography's issue. This had to do with how a film is made, the amount of people, the amount of equipment I wanted to get something trimmer and faster, you know. And so I felt I should go back to independent style of film making. And I saw the Fassbender pictures and then I followed up on that with meeting Michael. And we were going to make Last Temptation, but by the end of the year, the film fell through and we were out in the diaspora, so to speak, out of Hollywood, everywhere. And couldn't get a picture made. But finally, it was time to start all over again I felt. And we stumbled upon, I think it was Amy Robinson and Griffin Dunne gave me the script of After Hours . And so I thought this was a good opportunity to try to learn how to make a picture again and also a project, of course, that I really responded to because of the nature of the story and the character being out of his element and being in a place where he couldn't believe anyone or anything, and he's sort of trapped. And I thought this was-- That's the way I felt, myself, at the time. And so I called on Michael again there. And that's the first time we really had the ability to work together. We shot it in 40 nights, averaging about 25 to 26 setups a night. And so Michael would be on the set and it was you know, downtown somewhere in the old Soho, which, at that time, was really isolated at night. There was nobody there. And I'd get there and I'd be kind of grumpy, concerned about getting everything done, proving to myself I can get something shot in a more efficient manner that still had everything I wanted. I'm not quite sure of this particular scene. And he would look at me and says, ah, but tonight, tonight we do the shot that begins on the chair, tracks up, goes around the face, comes over to the telephone, goes to the jukebox. I says, oh, you're right, you're right. Yeah, yeah, that's something-- See, we don't do it first. No, no. Of course not. We're going to do it a little later because I have certain lighting issues. OK. OK. But he gave me something to look forward to and brought back the excitement and the love of the process, you know. He said, look, we're going t...

About the Instructor

Martin Scorsese drew his first storyboard when he was eight. Today he’s a legendary director whose films from Mean Streets to The Wolf of Wall Street have shaped movie history. In his first-ever online film class, the Oscar winner teaches his approach, from storytelling to editing to working with actors. He deconstructs films and breaks down his craft, changing how you make and watch movies.

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Martin Scorsese

In 30 lessons, learn the art of film from the director of Goodfellas, The Departed, and Taxi Driver.

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